The authors of Into the Woods, writer-director, James Lapine, and composer-lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, combined a few of the most well-known fairy/folk tales in the Western canon and created the musical. They cleverly interwove the tales of “Cinderella,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Little Red Riding Hood”. For the most part, the language of the musical is reminiscent of the language and phrasing one would find in a Grimm fairy tale. They, of course, took liberties with the tales, all the while preserving the original messages the tales offered. Sondheim and Lapine questioned if the key characters from the tales had more to learn or more to desire after being granted their wishes.
One major theme that audiences should not miss while watching Into the Woods is the necessity of community. Perhaps, other than the mischievous charm that comes along with the audacity to recreate age-old tales, is also the need to find or create relevance of those tales to current times. Although the tales are old as time, Into the Woods world premiered in 1986 at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, California. Problems individuals faced then are similar to the current problems of 2022. The AIDS epidemic was yet a mystery to the medical community and the general public. People, old and young, were dying. People old and young were losing friends. This was during the, then ongoing, United Stated – Russia Cold War. Five years following the show’s mounting, the Cold War would come to an assumed end with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Thirty-six years later, the United States is yet grappling with not only HIV/AIDS, but the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this, Russia’s highly publicized war activity with Ukraine had led some United States citizens to rehash conversations regarding the Cold War era.
So. Very much like in the year 1986, individuals who have suffered loss or who are reckoning with a turbulent reality may find comfort in non-traditional communities. Individuals may feel the need to find comfort in their homes as well outside of their homes. In this musical, Cinderella beautifully sings the following words to Little Red after she has suffered loss:
The lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, wanted to express the impossibility of being alone once one finds community. Like so many television shows and theater pieces that speak to the 80s and 90s, Into the Woods is about finding stability in community even in moments of despair. This message is necessary in a world that seems more scattered than ever. People are finding community in traditional ways via family, work, and close friends. However, people are also finding community in support groups, on social media, or on the street during protests. Regardless of how or where community is found, it is important to note “No one is alone”.